Employers could breach the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) if they fail to adjust their IT systems to cater for disabled employees.
Thin-client computing, the Linux operating system and Microsoft Windows CE have been singled out by charity Ability as technologies that do not run software to read screens, magnify displays, or emulate keyboards to allow people with disabilities to use computers.
The DDA, which came into force in 1995, gives the disabled rights in the areas of employment, access to goods, facilities and services and buying or renting land or property.
David Banes, operations director at charity Ability, told vnunet.com that although awareness of the DDA was growing, many employers, particularly at small and medium-sized enterprise level, were ignorant of their responsibilities.
"The DDA is law. Employers may be aware of the legislation but they may not realise the implications for software. Government departments like the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Education and Skills need to work with employers to work through these issues," he said.
"For an employer it means they have to balance the business case for deploying these technologies against accessibility issues. The question is, have they taken all these issues into consideration or have they chosen the technology simply because it's the cheapest option?
"Purchasers of technology need to have considered how they will cater for disabled employees as part of a total cost of ownership review."
Operating systems developers need to make sure they are sufficiently open to allow third-party suppliers to create accessibility products to run on them, Banes added.
"The big advantage for Windows is that it's deployed across so many desktops that there's a huge market for third parties to provide support for disabled users, such as screen readers," he said.
Although Linux deployments are growing, there has yet to be the penetration to support research costs for accessibility products, Banes said.
"As the markets for these products become larger, we'll start to see products coming through," he predicted.
Stephanie Slanickova, a solicitor in the employment and resourcing department at law firm Tarlo Lyons, said no technology was exempt from making adjustments.
"A new draft bill, due out at the end of the year, is likely to broaden the definition of disabled to include blind and partially sighted people. It will also mean that companies employing fewer than 15 staff will no longer be exempt," Slanickova said.
The Disability Rights Commission offers guidance to employers on making reasonable adjustments.
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